I know, I know, the C-word. It sends shivers down most respectable spines and rightly so. Cruises are usually floating casinos for Uncle Pete and Aunty Karen to demolish awful cocktails and slap away their superannuation. But not all cruises should be painted with the same bingo pencil. Destination cruises are designed around the idea that you use the ship for transport, sleep and refuelling, spending most of your time exploring a different location each day. Try and think of it as a series of overnight ferries, only it’s just one ferry and it’s ten times nicer and infinitely less likely to go on strike.
Celestyal Cruises happens to offer said excursions, so I loosened my belt, unbuttoned my shirt and spent a week cruising the Greek islands (with a dash of Turkey). There are obviously various routes and ships available (check them out here), but I think the following guide should help the cruise-curious Man of Many reader get an idea of life on-board, locations, and how to maximise the experience.
My tinnie for the week, aka Celestyal Crystal, was a 162 metre, 1200 passenger ship, and it was decked out to the point of overkill. Beauty Centre, Gym, Steam/Sauna, Swimming Pool, Conference Area, Duty-Free shops, three restaurants and four bars meant that you had more facilities than you knew what to do with. As I spent most of my time at the destinations themselves, I only really visited the restaurants and gym to start my day. Obviously, the food isn’t going to win any Michelin stars, but it was better than I anticipated, and with plenty of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, it was surprisingly accommodating. The gym itself also exceeded expectations. Partly because it was basically empty whenever I used it, and partly because they managed to fit a decent number of barbells, dumbbells and adjustable benches in the small space.
As for my cabin, it was also remarkably good. There was air-conditioning, a proper bathroom, tv, fridge and a real bed. While not all rooms had windows, I was lucky enough to see the light (I’d recommend ticking that box if you’re claustrophobically inclined) and if you’re the sort of person that goes a bit extra, then 53 of the rooms are available with private balconies. In all honesty, after a typically long day of swimming, riding and hiking, just coming back to fresh sheets and towels was worth its weight in ancient gold.
The first and arguably the most exciting island of the journey, Mykonos is the rock that never sleeps. It’s gay-friendly, has plenty of beach clubs, and is a little bit pretty. Expect plenty of white buildings, a maze of boutiques and sandy beaches. If you care more about history than you do house music, then the famous windmills and ancient temples can scratch that cycladian itch. You can access quite a lot just on foot, but if you want to do some exploring, I’d recommend a motorbike or scooter for the day. Mykonos is your best destination on the cruise for nightlife and shopping.
Milos is a volcanic treat and was my favourite destination on the cruise. Grab a scooter as soon as you dock and explore its beautiful coast. There are plenty of amazing rock formations, swimming coves and beaches all the way around the small island and I suggest you try and see as many as possible. Sarakiniko Beach and the catacombs are more famous locations, but just go exploring yourself and find your own treasures. Milos is your best destination on the cruise for natural beauty and swimming.
While Santorini is more famous for travelling couples, there is still plenty here for groups and solo travellers. The iconic white capital of Fira is as picturesque as you’ve seen in photos, but it’s once you get out and about that Santorini really starts to deliver. Volcanic cliffs, interesting beaches, wineries, there is plenty available once you access some motorised transport. A few companies will allow online bookings of scooters and quad bikes so you can have the vehicle waiting on your arrival to maximise your fun time. Finish off the day watching the sunset in Oia with an ice-cold beverage in hand. Santorini is your best destination on the cruise for architectural beauty and variety.
The itinerary read: Crete (Heraklion), but it should be the other way around. You might get excited seeing Crete in the title, but because of the sheer size of the island and the limited time I had, you could only really explore Heraklion. Yes, the capital and former Venetian harbour have an amazing history (including Knossos), but if you were hoping for some picturesque beaches, then you’ll be left disappointed. Heraklion is your best destination on the cruise for history and geographical frustration.
It’s easy to get seduced by the prospect of another stamp in your passport, but unfortunately, the ‘ resort town ‘ of Kusadasi didn’t feel like Turkey at all. The town itself felt more like an oversized cruise terminal and only the neighbouring ruins of Ephesus gave it any respectability. Notable mention to ‘ The Hand Coffee Shop & Wine ‘ to which both of their offerings salvaged my journey back to Athens. Kusadasi is your best destination on the cruise for coffee and anti-climax.
Some tips to maximise your cruise experience:
Do your research
Just as manners maketh the man, research maketh the holiday. A cruise might be the perfect way for you to switch off for a week and see some amazing locations, or maybe the kitsch interiors and clientele will make you want to jump overboard. It really depends on the individual. Research the destinations, vessels, itineraries, alternatives, and see what comes out in the wash.
Get a Sim Card
This could probably be a blanket statement for most destinations, but it’s particularly crucial when you’re time-poor. It’s key for research, navigating and downloading workshop manuals for two-stroke scooters that you may have broken (apparently).
Get a copy of your international drivers license
Not many countries in the world care about international drivers licenses, but unfortunately, Greece is one of them. Not only do you need one to avoid fines from local police, but Scooter and Car rental companies won’t give you a vehicle without one. Make sure you know the rules before zipping around. You can find out more info here.
Maximise your time off the boat
While it’s always nice to chill out, one night at sea is enough for most to go a bit stir crazy. So try and hop off as early as possible and get back as late as possible. A good day excursion is good for the soul and makes you appreciate the chill-out even more when you get back to your cabin.
Rent a scooter whenever you can
While you can’t control how much time you have before your ship says bon voyage, you can choose how you fill that time. Most ports have will have a scooter rental company close to where you dock. Bicycles are fine if you’ve got days in a European city, but when you only have eight hours on a Greek Island, you’ll need some help from good old’ internal combustion.
Get a bar phone holder mount for your scooter (motorbike, quad or bicycle)
You don’t want to stop every 5 minutes navigating to the next road or donkey path, so mount your phone and cruise like you know where you’re going.
Man of Many travelled as a guest of Celestyal Cruises